READ - How do you return to exercise safely following pregnancy?
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Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Even if you’re tired and not feeling motivated, there’s plenty you can do to get your body moving. But no two pregnancies are the same. How soon you’re ready to start exercising depends on your individual circumstances – so always check with a health professional first.
Exercise is beneficial for mums
Regular exercise after you’ve had a baby will strengthen and tone your muscles, help you recover from labour if you gave birth vaginally, and raise your energy levels so you feel less tired. Of course, it may help you to lose weight and become fitter.
Exercise is good for your mental wellbeing. It can relieve stress and help prevent postnatal depression. You are also more likely to get outside and meet people. Of course, don’t worry about not getting enough exercise. Caring for a newborn can be hard work, and you might not have the energy or time to work out as regularly as you’d like. Do the best you can – even 10 minutes is better than nothing.
How your body changes after pregnancy
When you feel ready to exercise, it’s very important to not to overdo it. Even if you’re feeling great after having your baby, your body will have gone through big changes and needs time to recover.
Labour and birth can cause physical problems including back pain and a leaky bladder, both of which can be made worse by vigorous exercise. Pregnancy hormones can affect your joints and ligaments for up to 6 months after the birth, putting you at greater risk of injury.
Your abdominal muscles may have separated during the pregnancy. They usually go back to normal after the birth, but sometimes they can stay separated. You will need to do exercises to strengthen these muscles to avoid back pain and injury.
Regular exercises will help to strengthen your pelvic floor. But you should take care not to do more damage by exercising too vigorously too soon. Be careful of using heavy weights or doing high-impact exercise, as this can increase your chance of prolapse (when an organ, such as the uterus, drops down).
How quickly you return to exercise depends on how fit you were before you had the baby, and what happened during the labour.
Returning to exercise after vaginal birth
You can start doing gentle pelvic floor and abdominal exercises the first day or two after the birth. If you feel any pain, stop.
When you feel like it, start with a gentle walk, perhaps while pushing the pram. Then, at your own pace, gradually increase the time and pace of your walks. Build up to a 30-minute walk every day if you can.
Don’t do any strenuous exercise in the first 12 weeks after the birth.
Avoid swimming until the bleeding has stopped for 7 days and you’ve had your postnatal check with the doctor or obstetrician (6 to 8 weeks after the birth).
Returning to exercise after caesarean
A caesarean is a major operation and it will take you at least 6 weeks to heal. However, you can still do pelvic floor exercises from the first day after the birth. You can start to exercise your abdominal muscles as soon as you feel able to. Avoid sit ups, crunches or abdominal curls, as these put pressure on the scar.
Avoid lifting heavy weights. Tighten your tummy and keep your back straight if you need to lift something around the house.
After 6 to 8 weeks, you will still be healing inside. It is OK to start walking, do low-impact aerobics or cycle. Stop if there is any discomfort, pain or a pulling sensation on your scar and try again a couple of weeks later.
You should avoid high-impact exercise for 3 to 4 months after your caesarean. Don’t go swimming until the bleeding has stopped for 7 days and you’ve had your postnatal check with the doctor or obstetrician (6 to 8 weeks after the birth).
Low-risk exercise for mums
The following exercises are suitable in the days after you have your baby:
Abdominal exercises, or ‘abdominal bracing’ Choose one of these positions: sitting, standing, lying on your side, lying on your back, or kneeling on all fours. Pull in your lower tummy towards your spine. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and breathe normally. Repeat 8 to 12 times, 4 times a day.
Pelvic floor exercises Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back. Squeeze and lift the muscles around your vagina as if you are trying to stop a wee. Hold as you count to 8; relax for 8 seconds. If you can’t hold for 8, just hold as long as you can. Repeat about 8 to 12 times.
Other exercises that are safe after pregnancy include:
swimming and aqua aerobics (once the bleeding has stopped)
light weight training
You can incorporate exercise into your day – for example, when you meet up with friends, or while you’re doing other tasks (doing pelvic floor exercises while you’re breastfeeding or driving, for example). Walk with your baby in the pram rather than driving, or do your abdominal exercises on the floor next to your baby.
For at least 3 months, try to avoid heavy weights, sit ups and high-intensity aerobic activity such as running and tennis.
When to be concerned
Before you start any high-impact exercises, cough or jump with a full bladder to see if you leak any urine. If you don’t, you’re probably ready to exercise.
If you’re still leaking urine 3 months after the birth, talk to your GP or a physiotherapist about strengthening your pelvic floor. You can find a physio near you using the healthdirect Service Finder.
If you have trouble emptying your bowel or bladder, feel a sense of pressure in your vagina or notice a bulge or swelling in your vagina, you may have a prolapse. See your doctor.
Where to seek more information
Talk to your doctor or maternal child health nurse.
Call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.
Download the free Continence Foundation of Australia Pelvic Floor First app, available on both Android and Apple devices.
Call Pregnancy Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse.